Counseling psychologists combine advanced training in psychology and counseling to assist patients dealing with challenges in their lives. A counseling psychology degree prepares graduates for careers in counseling psychology, research, and counseling, depending on the degree level. This page introduces counseling psychology degrees and the process for becoming a counseling psychologist.
What is Counseling Psychology?
Counseling psychology — a specialty within general psychology — focuses on treating patients through psychotherapy and various counseling methods. The field helps patients struggling with emotional, social, and developmental issues, with the goal of improving their wellbeing. Counseling psychologists assess patients to understand their needs, develop a customized plan of treatment, and counsel patients to provide the necessary tools to improve their mental health.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recognized counseling psychology as a specialty in 1946, and several scholarly journals are dedicated to the field. Today, the specialty blends psychology and counseling training to provide holistic care to patients.
How to Become a Counseling Psychologist
Counseling psychologists must meet specific educational and professional experience requirements to practice in their field. For instance, counseling psychology jobs often require a doctorate, a state license, and a supervised internship experience, a process that can take several years. This section explains the degree, internship, licensure, and certification options for counseling psychologists.
Counseling psychologists typically hold a doctorate in their field. During a doctoral program, counseling psychology students complete coursework, strengthen their research and clinical skills, and complete a dissertation under the supervision of a faculty adviser. Practicing psychologists typically must also hold a state license, which may require a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology.
During a counseling psychology degree program, students gain clinical experience through completing practicum or internship requirements. During a clinical internship, graduate students counsel patients under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Doctoral psychology programs accredited by the APA must incorporate an internship as part of the graduation requirement.
In most states, practicing counseling psychologists must hold a license. While the licensure process and requirements vary by state, they typically include a graduate degree in psychology — often a doctorate — and passing scores on a licensing examination. Many states also require candidates to complete supervised postdoctoral experience after completing their degree to earn the license. Once counseling psychologists earn their license, they must meet continuing education requirements to keep their license current.
Psychologists can voluntarily pursue certification to demonstrate their skills. The American Board of Professional Psychology recognizes several specializations, including counseling psychology. Candidates for board certification must hold a doctoral degree from an accredited psychology program and a license to practice psychology. Counseling psychologists pursuing board certification must also demonstrate completion of a doctoral internship and at least two years of postdoctoral professional experience. Candidates must also undergo a credential review and pass an oral examination.
Counseling Psychology vs. General Psychology
As a subfield within psychology, counseling psychology focuses on assisting patients through psychotherapy and counseling techniques. Counseling psychologists assess the emotional and social needs of their clients to design a treatment plan customized around the client's challenges. As a result, counseling psychology programs emphasize training in both counseling and psychology.
Counseling psychology and general psychology share many common traits. At the undergraduate level, psychology programs introduce students to core concepts and research methods used by psychologists. Most undergraduate programs do not offer a standalone counseling psychology degree, though electives may include coursework in the speciality. Instead, prospective counseling psychologists often earn a degree in general psychology.
At the graduate level, psychology programs train students in behavioral and cognitive psychology, including neuroscience, human development, and clinical psychology. Counseling psychology master's programs may include many of the same core classes as general psychology programs. Both fields also incorporate internships to give learners practical experiences and prepare graduates for careers in psychology.
The requirements for psychology professionals are often the same, regardless of specialization. Like general psychologists, counseling psychologists typically need a doctorate to qualify for a state license. Board certification in counseling psychology and general psychology both set similar educational, professional, and examination requirements.
As a specialty within psychology, counseling psychology shares a number of similarities with general psychology. However, counseling psychology requires specialized training that differs from general psychology. In a counseling psychology graduate program, for example, students complete coursework on counseling methods, psychotherapy, and clinical assessment. Counseling psychology Ph.D. students also complete a doctoral internship to strengthen their counseling skills.
While both licensed psychologists and licensed counseling psychologists typically require a doctorate for the licensure process, counseling psychologists often must meet additional supervised training requirements. For instance, board certification for counseling psychologists requires a minimum number of postdoctoral hours working in counseling psychology.
The career opportunities for a general psychologist and a counseling psychologist also differ. Counseling psychologists may work in different settings from general psychologists, for example. While many general psychologists work in academia or private practice, counseling psychologists may also find job opportunities at hospitals, inpatient treatment facilities, and rehabilitation facilities.
What Can You Do With a Counseling Psychology Degree?
Counseling psychologists work with patients struggling with emotional, social, or health problems. They provide counseling services to help patients improve their lives. In most states, counseling psychology jobs require a doctorate. Professionals must meet educational and experience requirements to complete the licensure process and become a licensed counseling psychologist.
However, a counseling psychology degree prepares graduates for several other careers, including as a licensed counselor, a case manager, a social worker, or a school counselor. In these fields, professionals draw on the training from a counseling psychology degree to help people manage challenges in their lives. Some jobs for counseling psychology majors require a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions, while others may require a master's degree.
Counseling Psychology Degree Programs
Undergraduate Counseling Psychology Programs
Completing a bachelor's in counseling psychology prepares graduates for careers in social services or a graduate degree in psychology. While an undergraduate counseling psychology degree does not meet the licensure requirements to become a counseling psychologist, the degree provides valuable interpersonal, communication, and research skills. A bachelor's in counseling psychology typically takes four years and requires 120 credits, including general education and major requirements. Some programs also offer an internship to gain hands-on experience.
Careers This Degree Can Prepare You For
Social workers help clients manage problems in their everyday lives. They assess people's needs, design treatment plans to help clients improve their wellbeing, and recommend programs to help support clients. Social workers also offer counseling services. While most career paths in social work require a master's degree, some entry-level positions may hire candidates with a bachelor's in social work, counseling, or psychology.
Case managers assist individuals struggling with addiction, illnesses, or poverty. They offer guidance on improving their clients' lives, accessing services, and recovering from challenging situations. Many case managers design treatment plans to help their clients. The position requires strong interpersonal and organizational skills.
Community service managers supervise social service programs and community organizations. Community service managers also oversee the administration of programs, manage workers and volunteers, analyze data to assess program effectiveness, and plan outreach activities to increase awareness of programs. A background in counseling psychology provides strong interpersonal and research skills.
Counseling Psychology Master’s Programs
Earning a master's in counseling psychology prepares graduates for careers as a counselor or program director. A master's in psychology meets the requirement for licensed psychologists in some states, but most require a Ph.D. During a master's program, graduate students complete coursework requirements, pass a master's exam, and often write a master's thesis. Most master's programs in counseling psychology incorporate an internship or practicum to help students gain professional experience.
Careers This Degree Can Prepare You For
Mental health counselors help patients improve their emotional wellbeing. They assess a patient's needs and create a personalized treatment plan, which typically involves ongoing counseling. Most state licensing boards require candidates to hold a master's degree in counseling or psychology to become a licensed mental health counselor.
Nonprofit program directors oversee an organization to ensure that it meets its goals. They make administrative decisions, manage staff and volunteers, provide a vision for the organization, and communicate with internal and external partners. A background in counseling psychology provides strong interpersonal and communication skills, which fit well in nonprofit organizations dedicated to mental health, counseling, or related areas.
School counselors help students overcome social, emotional, and academic problems. They work with children and adolescents to improve their wellbeing and academic performance. As part of this duty, they help children cope with changes in their home life, bullying, and substance abuse. Most school counselors must hold a state license and a master's degree in counseling or psychology.
Counseling Psychology Doctorate Programs
A counseling psychology Ph.D. prepares graduates for careers as licensed counseling psychologists, psychology professors, and research psychologists. Counseling psychology Ph.D. programs typically take around five years. During that time, doctoral students complete coursework requirements, pass a comprehensive examination, and research and write a dissertation under the supervision of a faculty adviser. APA-accredited Ph.D. programs must also include a doctoral internship, during which students gain valuable professional experience.
Careers This Degree Can Prepare You For
Counseling psychologists help patients overcome emotional, social, health, and developmental issues. They administer therapeutic counseling to assess a patient's mental health and wellbeing. Counseling psychologists provide patients with tools to improve their lives. The career generally requires a doctorate in psychology and a state license.
Psychology professors teach undergraduate and graduate courses in their specialty. They design syllabi, prepare and deliver lectures, and assess student learning. Psychology professors often conduct research and publish their findings in scholarly journals. At the graduate level, they supervise students and oversee internships.
Research psychologists conduct research within areas such as counseling psychology, developmental psychology, and social psychology. Research psychologists specializing in counseling psychology might research effective counseling methods or approaches to overcoming typical life stresses. The field requires strong training in experimental methods and statistics, which research psychologists build during a Ph.D. program.
Online Counseling Psychology Programs
Many students choose an online counseling psychology degree because of the flexibility and convenience of online learning formats. Online programs allow students to complete their coursework requirements through a distance learning platform and meet any internship requirements locally. Working professionals may prefer an online format, which offers the flexibility to continue working while earning a degree. Accredited online psychology programs meet the same rigorous academic standards as accredited on-campus programs.
Prospective counseling psychology students can also earn an online master's degree in counseling psychology. Graduate students work with faculty advisers to complete coursework, internship, and master's thesis requirements. Online master's programs appeal to working students seeking an accessible option for career advancement. Students can attend one of the top counseling psychology graduate programs without relocating.
When Selecting a Program
Research Job Placements: Researching the job placement record for recent graduates can help prospective students understand a program's reputation and track record. For instance, a program that primarily trains research psychologists may not appeal to a student seeking a career in counseling practice.
Check Graduation Requirements: Programs set their own graduation requirements, including coursework requirements, internship hours, and dissertation requirements. Researching these factors can help prospective students determine whether a program meets their timeline and career goals.
Look for an Accredited Program: Prospective students should always choose an accredited psychology program. Accredited degrees meet licensure requirements, and some employers only hire candidates from accredited programs.